“Time and the Batman” (Batman #700 – 703)

In my last post I suggested that the stories here probably wouldn’t be important in the long run of things, particularly when the last isn’t written by Morrison, and I was right – they will probably, in fact, be the only stories in this entire run that can be considered unnecessary. But they’re actually not bad, if I accidentally gave that impression, so let’s get into them, shall we?

First up is the titular story, Time and the Batman (Batman #700), and it’s probably my favourite of the three. With a glimpse at Damian’s “What if?” future, it is indeed an “elseworlds” tale…sort of. It starts off with a section with Bruce Wayne as Batman called Yesterday and follows with Dick and Damian’s team up in Today before Damian’s solo part, so the first two could have happened, I suppose. In fact, they probably did, only the murder mystery told over these three eras is never actually solved because – let’s face it – Damian’s future isn’t a real thing, so it can’t be solved in his time. Or maybe the whole thing’s not to be taken seriously because, you know, 700th issue of Batman and all, and the whole story is like a tribute to the endless possibilities of Batman, the first story featuring older, classic portrayals of characters, the second being what I guess at the time was Morrison’s ongoing Batman and Robin series, and the third bringing back Damian’s “What if?” follow up. Plus, after the third story, there’s And Tomorrow…, which is wacky ideas of what Batman would be like in the far future, and that ends with the lines, “No matter when. No matter where. No matter how dark.”, obviously meant to drive the point home that Batman – perhaps all fiction if Final Crisis is any indication of what Morrison thinks about creativity – is for forever. So let’s talk about these fun little tales one by one real quick.

Yesterday, as I say, has classic portrayals of characters – you know, that silly Robin costume, the Joker’s purple suit, the Riddler’s green costume covered in question marks, and Catwoman’s old variant with a cape. It’s kind of funny to see some of these villains – the Mad Hatter’s here too, as is Scarecrow – because we probably won’t at any other point in the run, the Joker obviously being the exception. Even though the Joker here is actually displayed as the more wacky lunatic of the past, and even hits a guy with a rubber chicken, it is still very much Morrison’s idea of the Joker, at one point changing persona’s like he did in The Clown at Midnight. In this case, what he changes to seems to be Heath Ledger’s Joker of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, suddenly threatening to cut Robin a “baby smile” across his face with a switch blade after, moments before, muttering to himself about his joke book and smoking a pipe.

The next part of this story, Today, is amazing. First of all, we get five pages of Frank Quietly’s amazing artwork. This brilliant guy will be doing all of the artwork for the first part of Batman and Robin, so there’s an additional reason to be excited for the first book in that series and I’ll be talking about his work then. Secondly, this is obviously Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne we’re seeing here for the first time and, man, reading this has got me hyped. The first thing I noticed was that Dick, arriving to the crime scene related to the first part of the story, asks one of Gordon’s officers how his boy’s doing, remembering both their names. Let’s face it: Bruce would never bother his arse to do this because he’s all about the job, which to him is focused on solving crimes and scaring the shit out of criminals. On the complete contrary, however, we see that Dick as Batman is really friendly, actually allowing a couple who warn them of some thugs to take pictures: “Holly, we’ll be killed”, says the man, to which Dick responds, “Nah, you’ll be fine. We’re here”. Also, he smiles, but not in a scary way. Oh, and makes time for a quick shave at the end. Yeah. But then there’s Damian. Although he doesn’t say too much for me to outright say that this is how it is, I did notice that he makes a “Tt” noise, which instantly reminded me of Bruce and all his “Hh” grunts, which strongly implied, to me anyway, that Damian will be more of the Batman between he and Dick if that makes sense. But he’s not an all out lunatic like we see in the fake future as, in fact, one of the things I’m suddenly looking forward to is how hilarious these two are going to be together. A guy called Scott Kolins does the art for the last three pages of this section and in those three pages we see the two stop for a coffee and some pizza, compare their  work that night, and jump off some gargoyles with big grins on their faces to end their part of the story. The next three books with these guys are going to be a blast.

Tomorrow, finally, is the best of the bunch because future Damian is just awesome and Andy Kubert’s back with his fantastic artwork. On the latter point, the very first page shows clouds of smoke throughout what we can see of Gotham, revealed by Damian’s narration to be Joker toxin, so what Kubert does is put the Joker’s face in this murky sky to suggest this, so well that Morrison doesn’t really need to point it out to you, and I think that says it all. Quality work. On the former point, here’s what Damian accomplishes in nine pages: he saves the city from this Joker toxin in nine minutes, off by only two seconds, defeating the mastermind behind, 2-Face-2 (yes, really), and a guy called Roboto. The funny thing he does with the latter villain is tell him that he’ll break his neck “clean” if he tells me where the kid that’s being held hostage is instead of leaving him to be eaten by mutant rats. Only…once this guy tells him, he lets him get eaten by the rats anyway, to which Roboto screams something that isn’t typically said in a sincere way about Batman, usually just as an insult: “Batman, you bastard!” Gotta love Damian, and you gotta love this story as a whole, portraying three very different Batmen.

Next up in the book was R.I.P. – The Missing Chapter (Batman #701 and 702). The first thing I have to point out, and this goes for the first part of the former story too, Tony S. Daniels does the artwork here and, to my great surprise, it is actually pretty bloody good the whole time. For these stories he uses a style not like what we’ve seen before – less concerned with being realistic and the better for it, all of his characters looking a lot more natural. Not only that, though – he actually does some pretty nice stuff with panel composition that I thought looked great, so bravo to him for a stellar, consistent job. Check out Exhibit A for an example. Incidentally, I had forgotten to say what my overall impression of his art in R.I.P. was, so here goes: inconsistent yet again. Although I pointed out that he nailed some images, some of which I’m sure will be iconic one day, throughout that whole story he goes from excellent to utter crap, most noticeably seeming to struggle with how some of the characters look. But here? Bloody excellent. As this was years ago, I don’t know if it’s the style of art he uses today, but I sure hope so.

Anyway, we should probably talk about the story of this one, or some of the specific stuff that’s brought to the surface. First of all, Doctor Hurt does indeed survive the helicopter crash of R.I.P. In the first part of this story we see his hand at the wreckage and when Batman comes back later in a submarine (of course) he finds neither his mysterious nemesis or his pilot, the third ghost, Lane. But we maybe get the first hints of understanding who Hurt could be too. Back at home, Batman at one point realises that Hurt knew of the manor’s secret room, which Bruce’s parents had always forbidden from entering. It’s the first we’ve heard of this, I’m sure, but more than a little uncanny, doubly so when Bruce enters and finds the word “Barbatos” written on the wall, and the name “Thomas” repeated over and over, and remember that Hurt claimed to be Thomas Wayne. Anyway, a search on Google revealed to me that Barbatos is some kind of demon of Hell, and so this obviously supports the theory that Hurt implies, that of him being either the Devil or a worshipper of Satan. However, I can’t obviously help but notice that the word “bat” can be read in Barbatos, and I’m betting that Bruce doesn’t talk of his own “myth” in the second part of this issue for no reason.

Indeed, what he confirms is that being shot by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction sends him back in time. How his body is left behind in the world is still confusing to me, but that’s time travel for you, I suppose. Plus, his memory is wiped clean, as I suspected at the end of Final Crisis. Anyhow, what he somehow realises about finding himself in the past is that history has changed around him and it doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that we see Bruce in the hidden room when we read this idea. Here’s the wild theory that I’m driving at: at the end of Final Crisis, and here too, we see Bruce draw his bat symbol in the cave he finds himself sharing with Anthro. The presence of the latter character is significant because it was through him drawing Metron’s symbol everywhere that that became the symbol the characters used to save the world. With Batman’s talk of myths in this story, even going as far as to point out that he needs to make a trail with his memory slipping, my theory is that he creates his own around being Batman, and in doing so will mistakenly create Barbatos, thus mistakenly creating Doctor Hurt, “the hole in things”. It’s a lot of time travel nonsense to wrap one’s head around but it makes sense in mine if you take into consideration that, when Bruce somehow returns from the past, he’ll be creating Batman Incorporated, which the cover implies is global Batmen, thereby following through with this idea that Batman is a symbol of good triumphing over evil. Indeed, one of the far future ideas shown in the first issue of this book shows what appears to be an older Damian actually training new Batmen.

But, hey, I could be completely wrong, so who knows? Either way, I’m really curious if we’ll get some definite answers the next time Hurt rears his head. Two more things before we move on to the last story of this book. In the second part there’s a panel of Batman’s body in a coffin, candles and all – it’s clearly the same funeral we see in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? That story isn’t technically meant to make sense but it is pretty cool to see the same funeral scene here. The second thing is the repeated phrase of “the hole in things”, which Bruce not only relates back to Hurt, but to the bullet left in his mother, which can be traced back, he thinks, to Darkseid and the Radion bullet Batman used to kill him with. Though I’m not sure how literally to take the idea of this bullet being “the essence of bullet”, the same one that killed JFK, John Lennon and countless others, I do think that this phrase will be back in the run because here’s a question: though the bullet that shot Bruce’s mother and father left literal holes in them, did it not too make one in him? That, in a sad or happy way, depending on your outlook, is a hole that Bruce is constantly trying to fill or stitch together as Batman, and I see the opportunity for this to become a theme of the run, which could be quite interesting. Quite sure I talked about this before, but there you go again – it’s a theme I’d like to see openly explored.

Well now, this has been a pretty long review for such a short book. Well, it’s probably best I end it here. There is one more story in this book, The Great Escape (Batman #703), but it’s written by Fabian Nicieza, not Morrison, and so not really important to us. Indeed, I did a search online to be sure, but this is part of his own series of Batman stories, though it sounds like there was a bit of mess in what issues you could find the whole story. This itself is actually pretty good, following our new Batman and Robin in pursuit of what they believe is an old villain, with help from Red Robin, which is Tim Drake’s new position which we in fact saw with Superman in the last story, listening to Bruce’s audio recording from the distant past. Although I haven’t read Morrison’s Batman and Robin yet, this does actually read like what he might have the characters say, Dick and Damian exchanging funny banter with one another. But with it not affecting our run, I’ll end this review here, though I’ll emphasise once more that it is pretty good – maybe I’ll check to see if this story and the others Fabian wrote are collected together anywhere.

Well, that’s another book down. It’s not really necessary but I recommend picking it up at a cheap price anyway since the stories inside aren’t too shabby at all. Next up in our long run is the three Batman and Robin books, and I cannot fucking wait. How I’m going to review them is not issue by issue probably, but instead in six parts for the six story arcs that the three books are comprised of. That might change depending on the content issue by issue and how much I have to say, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Either way, I’m terribly excited, and a review may be up as early as tomorrow if I indeed enjoy the following three books as much as I think I will. Until then.

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